The Dead Have Messages for the Land of the Living -
Director Clint Eastwood explores what happens after death.
Review by A. O. SCOTT Published: NY TIMES, Arts & Leisure, October 14, 2010
The afterlife is not necessarily where you would expect to find Clint Eastwood,
who at 80 shows no signs of tiring out or settling down. His latest film,
“Hereafter,” is at once recognizably his — in tone and atmosphere — and a
startling departure from his
Death has never been a stranger in Mr. Eastwood’s cinematic universe:
the lone riders and taciturn gunmen that defined his heroic phase as an actor
were frequently pitiless avatars of mortality, and the grave has often been the
horizon toward which both the righteous and the wicked in his movies are drawn.
But like most filmmakers working outside the genres of horror or sudsy religious
comedy, Mr. Eastwood has shown little inclination to point his camera beyond that
Nor is Peter Morgan, who wrote the screenplay for “Hereafter,” known to have
much of a spiritual or supernatural bent. His specialty — marvelously evident in
“The Deal,” “Frost/Nixon,” “The Queen” and “The Damned United” — has been the
prickly interactions of living people in a decidedly secular world. The closest Mr. Morgan
has come to a ghost story may be “The Queen,” but only if you imagine it from the
perspective of the recently departed Diana, Princess of Wales, flitting unseen through
limbo, raising a spectral eyebrow at the consternation she has caused her
mother-in-law by dying in such dramatically inconvenient fashion.
One of the reasons that “Hereafter” works as well as it does — it has the power
to haunt the skeptical, to mystify the credulous and to fascinate everyone in between
— may be that its subject matter is so clearly alien to the sensibilities of its makers.
Communication with the dead is a risky business, principally because once the door to
the beyond opens a tiny crack, all kinds of maudlin nonsense come rushing in.
But one of Mr. Eastwood’s great and undersung strengths as a director is his ability to
wade into swamps of sentimental hokum and come out perfectly dry. Directed by anyone
else, “The Bridges of Madison County”would most likely have been as unbearable as the
book on which it was based. “Million Dollar Baby,” though derived from much better source
material, walked through a minefield of clichés and emerged as a masterpiece.
“Hereafter” does not land with the clean, devastating force of either of those movies.
Instead, it is quiet, gorgeous and contemplative. Mr. Eastwood’s longtime
cinematographer, Tom Stern, composes a world of rich, deep shadows and heavy,
saturated colors, making you aware of encroaching darkness, but also of the intense,
almost tactile beauty of existence. The inhabitants of this world — ordinary people
whose plans and expectations are knocked off course by intimations of an afterlife
— have a fine-grained individuality that makes you care even if, from time to time,
you have trouble believing.
The film follows three independent story lines, which converge (not quite convincingly)
only at the last moment, and each involves a collision between the living and the dead.
In San Francisco, a man named George Lonegan (Matt Damon) suffers with a gift that
feels, to him, more like a curse. His ability to receive messages from the dead loved ones
of anyone he touches once made him a nice living, but despite the pleas of his
entrepreneurial brother (Jay Mohr), George has chosen a life of obscurity and manual labor.
In London, Marcus, a melancholy young boy, intuits the presence of his twin brother,
Jason, whose violent death has left Marcus adrift in a world where compassion and
indifference are hard to tell apart. (The brothers are played by George and Frankie McLaren.)
And in Paris, Marie Lelay (Cécile de France), a television journalist who survived the 2004
tsunami, is convinced that her near-death experience in that catastrophe showed her a
metaphysical reality that the rest of the world is blindly determined to ignore.
This kind of braided plot, almost unavoidable in the superstitious age of “Babel” and “Crash,”
may be as surprising, coming from Mr. Eastwood, as the large-scale, computer-generated
tsunami sequence that snaps the audience to horrified attention early in the film. At the
same time, there is an austerity in “Hereafter” that keeps the melodramatic possibilities latent
in the script safely at bay. Mr. Eastwood’s stripped-down, highly efficient approach to storytelling
serves as an anchor to the busy narrative and the complicated visuals, and perhaps the most
gratifying thing about “Hereafter” is its patience.
You would not want a movie about death to be in too much of a hurry, and Mr. Eastwood lingers
over scenes and details that curl away from the plot. A meeting in the boardroom of a French
publishing house, at which Marie proposes a book on the life and times of François Mitterrand,
the former president of France, is both perfectly irrelevant and completely engrossing as a
snapshot of Gallic politique.
George, cautiously trying to shake off his gloom and find a social life, enrolls in a cooking class,
where he meets Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard), a young woman who seems as eager to fall
in love with him as he is reluctant to believe it. Their early flirtations, delicate and funny with
a palpable ache of longing, dispel the gloom and portent that linger around George, offering
him a tantalizing peek at what a normal life might look like.
Normal life, in the terms proposed by this film, might be defined as existence pursued in a
state of studied incuriosity about what comes next. What gives “Hereafter” its strange, unsettling
mood and its curious momentum is the growing tension between this relatively happy state and
the sense, shared by Marie, Marcus and George, that what comes next lies at once close at hand
and beyond the reach of any organized system of beliefs.
Persuasion is not really the point, though if anyone could make me believe in ghosts, it would be
Clint Eastwood. And the afterlife itself remains, throughout the film, a vague, conjectural place, a
zone of speculation rather than a freshly discovered and surveyed continent. The fuzzy digital
ghosts that occasionally flutter across the screen are more symbolic placeholders than literal
apparitions. Something seems to be out there, and cinematic technology provides an available
shorthand to indicate its presence.
What does seem new — newly strange, newly beautiful — is what “Hereafter” makes of the
here and now. It is a curious movie in both senses of the word: an unusual experience and an
open-ended inquiry into something nobody can really claim to understand. It leaves you wondering,
which may be the most fitting way of saying that it’s wonderful.
Directed by Clint Eastwood; written by Peter Morgan; director of photography, Tom Stern;
edited by Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach; music by Mr. Eastwood; production design by James J.
Murakami; costumes by Deborah Hopper; produced by Mr. Eastwood, Kathleen Kennedy and Robert
Lorenz; released by Warner Brothers Pictures. Running time: 2 hours 9 minutes. WITH: Matt Damon
(George Lonegan), Cécile de France (Marie Lelay), Frankie and George McLaren (Marcus/Jason), Jay
Mohr (Billy), Bryce Dallas Howard (Melanie), Marthe Keller (Dr. Rousseau), Thierry Neuvic (Didier)
and Derek Jacobi (Himself).
Hereafter directed by Clint Eastwood
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Sunday, 16 October 2011 05:17
posted by Diandra
Well done article that. I'll make sure to use it weisly.